Business networking is an integral part of all enterprises. Done the right way it can be productive and fun! The key to true business networking is the establishment of a mutually beneficial relationship, and that’s a rare achievement at the standard shake-hands-and-exchange-your-business-card events believed to be business networking “opportunities”.
Networking is a reciprocal process in which you share ideas, opinions, information, advice, brainstorming and sometimes tickets to a concert! The best networkers have savvy, common sense. It’s a natural process, not regulated by rules or do’s and don’ts. Some of the best networkers don’t even know they’re networking. They’re just out there sharing ideas, sharing themselves!
As an entrepreneur, you have to remember that when someone meets you, they also meet the company, the company that you have created. You are your business. It is not enough to visit a networking group, talk to dozens of people and gather as many business cards possible. The impression that you make on people is the impression they will have of your business. Networking is less about meeting new people than having them remember you after the fact. So how do you get someone to remember you from the other ten people he met that very same place?
1. The right place at the right time. The best results come from attending events particular to your industry. Keep yourself updated with events such as trade shows, conferences, exclusive festivals and associations dedicated to your type of business. You can also join groups where your potential clients meet.
2. Stand-out. You have exactly ONE opportunity to make that impactful first impression. When meeting people at a business networking event, or otherwise, try and look distinctive, be it with your dressing or communication style. Don’t try anything eccentric; keep it pleasant, confident and different.
3. Get engaged. Be fully aware of the people you meet and interact with. This means listening well, responding promptly, maintaining eye contact, etc. but if you are truly present, these things will happen naturally. Many people only seem to be “half there”, so being fully engaged will help you stand out.
4. Make Interesting Conversations. Ask thought-provoking questions. “How did you get started?” or “What do you enjoy most about what you do?” They’re specific to the person you’re interacting with and will arise in response to your initial conversation. Do #3 and this will flow naturally. Keep it the same for yourself. For example, is there some kind of story behind your name? Does your business have an unusual name? What’s the story behind it – what does it mean?
5. Contribute to the group conversation. Saying one really smart thing at your table or in front of the whole group will make you much more memorable than half an hour of small talk.
6. Focus on quality contacts versus quantity. You rather invest your time in few potential partners/customers at such events rather than returning with a huge pile of business cards from people whose names and faces you have already forgotten. Follow-up with them once you get back over an e-mail or telephone call and see how you can take this relationship forward.
Don’t start looking for immediate gains. Remember that you and your business partner/client have come together for a mutually rewarding relationship, hence while you get, you will also have to give and vice versa.
Is there a dark side to networking?
It depends on how much, what type, and if you take it from a stranger. Mis-representing yourself or your business even accidentally or in a very small way can also end up translating into huge losses! In fact another important facet is to train the people working with you into the basics of networking. The transference of trust is at the heart of networking. The ultimate connection is when someone makes a connection on your behalf.
Take a few moments to evaluate whether or not to network. Networking can be your source of perfect knowledge about your industry, customers and competitors. In the end, it will give you tons of satisfaction, reliable ‘contacts’ and plenty of business opportunity!
About the author: Mariam Jafri